The psychology secret to Zynga’s success (now valued at $10 Billion!)

SCap_ 2011-02-23_42OK, so Facebook game maker Zynga is raising additional money at a $10 BILLION valuation. One would hope that that’s enough to make anyone’s ears prick up…

So how did they get here: By understanding something about human psychology, and then HACKING it for all its worth.

1) Addict people with SIMPLE, low learning-curve games, that 2) are social in the way you might have played certain board games in real life in the past, and that 3) have Irregular Reward Schedules (these are the most addicting forms of behavioral reinforcers, read up on your Behaviorism 101…).

THEN, 4) offer them little ways to essentially cheat in the games (making things go more smoothlyfor you), that 5) can be purchased for amounts that fall within the Impulse Purchase threshold, i.e. below the price level where your conscious mind kicks in fully and begins to wonder whether this is really a good idea, asf.

Read the following quote at least 3 times to yourself: “Zynga makes all its money selling virtual goods…Tiny amounts of money make the games progress faster.” (From Business Insider.) If you get it, you’ll know that tons of companies have been neglecting/violating the lessons therein to their considerable detriment.

I just argued yesterday that Sony is making a huge mistake by not going the $1/month route for complete/unlimited streaming music access with their new offering:

Another example that I saw just yesterday: Clever Twitter service “Buffer” ( @bufferapp ), which allows you to in essence do a bit.ly-like bookmarklet share to Twitter WITH automatic posting throttling/buffering built-in, so that your tweets are dripped out over time even though you can batch collect them all at once over, say, your morning blog reading hour:

All great, except that they are mispricing their premium levels very badly: 10 tweets in buffer, 3 tweets a day is Free. $5/month for 50 tweets in buffer, 10 tweets/day dripped, and $30/month (crazy…!?) for all unlimited is simply not going to work for them IMO. [See: http://www.bufferapp.com/pricing ]

$5/month is outside of impulse purchase range, while $1/month = Bingo! Sold! At $5, your mind is beginning to ask: Do I really need this? Is it worth it? Can I justify it directly via increased ROI? Where/how am I even going to measure this ROI?

All questions that you DON’T WANT your prospective customer asking at the entry point!! Which is exactly what Zynga has realized so brilliantly, and to such obvious success. The proof of the (psych) pudding is still in the eating… Zynga: “Would you like to improve your position in this game you are already playing for 10 cents?” – Unconscious Mind: “You bet I would.”

Which brings me to another of my pet points about successful online advertising/selling: Offer people only things which make sense in the context of what they were ALREADY doing. In this case, don’t try to offer them after shave, bracelets, or cars while they are playing Farmville, offer them something to do with Farmville!

Disclosure: I don’t play Farmville or CityVille, and have never tossed sheep or vampires at my Facebook friends. I do however study these phenomena very closely… 🙂

Key excerpt on Decoy Pricing from: “TechCrunch: The Subplots Of The iPad”

TechCrunch writes in The Subplots Of The iPad Blockbuster:

As I laid out a few weeks ago, it seems pretty likely that it was Apple that leaked much of the information to The Wall Street Journal about the tablet device prior to its launch — including the bogus $1,000 price from “analysts.” Later, a former Apple employee corroborated this.

Why would they do this? It’s simple. As I said at the time, if they plant the idea in peoples’ minds that a product will be $1,000, then release it for significantly cheaper, it’s a huge win for Apple. So when Jobs announced the entry-level iPad would be $499 yesterday, it was an absolute home run.

I have said for a good while that Apple is purposefully leaking "information" (mixed with misinformation) in just the right doses and intervals to keep the launch mania pot stewing, ending in a rolling boil crescendo right at launch.

(See: The Apple Tablet And Planned Insanity and as early as 8/08: Apple’s "Magician" Archetype Branding Revisited: Good News – Bad News .)

Now when it comes to seeding these price point speculations, they added yet another twist I’ve previously reported on: Decoy Offers or Decoy Pricing.

What it boils down to is that since all price perceptions are relative to a given context (ALL meaning arises in context by the way), if you can create a context where the price point at which you eventually offer something appears low, you will sell a lot more.

To quote my prior post:

Dan Ariely’s excellent "Predictably Irrational" talks about such contextual "decoy offers" that can boost sales for the item the seller really wants people to buy. As an example he uses a past offer by british business magazine The Economist:

It had listed $59 for on-line access only, $125 for print-only, and $125 for print & Web combo subscriptions, and had thereby significantly boosted the number of the expensive combo subscriptions sold (vs. test offers that omitted the seemingly non-sensical $125 print-only option)!

Obviously Apple just took things a step further: Since the Decoy Offer is not expected to be taken by anyone, it really doesn’t matter if you ever really formally write it up anywhere. Just introduce a high price point via a leak and nurture it (by not disputing the rumors) for a while, then triumphantly announce that the thing is actually going to cost HALF that.

If there had been no context of the prior (seeded) expectations, then the announcement of the entry-level iPad costing $499 would have been only referenced against other things in the consumer’s/prospect’s (that includes you!) mind:

Prices for other electronics items, other computers, other Apple products, asf. And the comparison may not have been favorable, or, a wash (no signal one way or the other).

Instead it was compared to a price point that for many months had already been talked about by all and sundry as reasonable, maybe high, yes, but definitely in the realm of the possible.

The expectation that the iPad was going to be a rather expensive and substantive device became more and more firmly established in people’s minds everyday this way. Now if you announce it at HALF, everybody’s knee-jerk reaction becomes: "This is a bargain!"

One more thing that Apple pulled off here is to establish the low $499 entry-level price as an ANCHOR price to pull this stunt off. Even though most people will spend substantially more for the iPad they really want, with 3G wireless and not just Wifi, and with more memory storage.

I doubt apple expects to ship too many of the $499 iPads. In essence, they created yet another decoy offer!

Writes TheNextWeb in I Call It The iLetdown – Why The iPad Missed The Mark And Blew Its Big Day:

Getting right into it, the lowest price for the iPad point is a mirage. A non-expandable device that has a total of 16 gigabytes of storage? Assuming a usable 15 gigabytes of space, I can fit less than a third of my music onto the device. Excellent. And zero percent of my photos. And videos. And apps, of course. So to say that Apple has created a mass market tablet for $500 is a little disingenuous.

So really what we have here is a Double Decoy, so to speak…